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The Children are the Future. Be Afraid.
By Alex Carrigan
Speculative fiction is the stuff of nightmares. Sure, it's fun to imagine worlds where humans advance due to the help of aliens or evolve to the point of having special abilities, but let's be honest: the future is a terrifying place and even when you try to think of futuristic utopias, there's always going to be something nagging in the back of your head that deconstructs any peace you imagine. Hell, just watching any episode of Black Mirror will do that to you. Reading about it can be worse because you have to create the visuals yourself. You yourself are forced to create the visuals that come with some indescribable futuristic terror.
Because of that, I was curious to see what Katharine Haake's Assumptions We Make About the Postworld had in mind. The book is a collection of parables set in an unknown period of time in an unknown world. The set up for a lot of these stories is similar: a person, usually a child, develops something strange, and the people around them react to this, or don't. Some stories include a child with a cough that won't go away and a girl born without a body. In others, there are more (super)natural events and moments arrive, leading to a variety of actions from the affected citizens. These include aliens arriving in a small village, or a school of fish appearing in the night.
Reading many of these parables made me feel cold and slightly unnerved. The stories are very short and don't include many extraneous details, so Haake is able to get to the heart of each tale quickly and effectively. The aliens that appear in a town have a hunger that can't be satisfied, and the villagers casually strip their lives completely bare in an effort to continue feeding the aliens. There's no idea of when this story is set, how advanced or how large the village is, if this is happening anywhere else in the world, or anything grand or global. We don't even know if this is the future; the lack of details suggest this could have happened at any point in history.
The parables that most affected me where the ones focused on children. Haake has several stories that show a person being born differently, and how the world around them reacts to them. The girl without a body is incredibly intelligent, but also extremely sheltered by her mother. These parables are creepy to me because they don't have to even be about anything supernatural. Haake manages to make a lot of these parables feel like they could be moments occurring in the present, with details changed to add an element of speculative fiction to it.
This collection is an effective assortment of short tales that reflect where we could be going as a species, but also reflect that we may not be going too far off. Sure, we may never have all-consuming aliens or bodiless children, but we will have groups of people that tear themselves apart in the name of sacrifice, and we will see people born into situations beyond their control that are coddled and othered to the point where it becomes almost impossible to understand them. For all we know, the parables in this collection could all be happening on one street somewhere in the most average town in the U.S. They could even be happening right now, and we'd have no idea they'd be happening.
Assumptions We Make About the Postworld is a chilling and effective collection. Haake manages to tell sweet, simple, and terrifying stories that make the reader fear the future, but also question the present. Whether or not the events in the story could come true isn't the most burgeoning question. It's whether or not we could already be in a postworld state where such events and occurrences are commonplace. And to me, that's more terrifying than any knot in my stomach or any cough that won't go away.
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